This article was originally published on GoErie.com by Griffin Connolly on December 19, 2017
WASHINGTON — House offices shelled out nearly $175,000 in taxpayer money to settle with employees over sexual harassment or sex discrimination claims from 2008 to 2012, according to data released Tuesday by the Office of Compliance through the House Administration Committee.
The OOC did not disclose which offices or individuals settled using money from the OOC Awards and Settlement Fund.
Three offices settled for sexual harassment to the tune of $115,000, per the newly released data.
When an employee files a workplace complaint against their office, the documentation process often does not specify exactly whom that employee has accused of wrongdoing. Claims could be against anyone in that office — not just members.
“We must create a culture within our Capitol Hill community that instills in every employee and employer, new and old, that there is no place for sexual harassment in the halls of Congress,” House Administration Chairman Gregg Harper of Mississippi said in a statement Tuesday along with the data release. “As I have stated from the beginning of this review, one case of sexual harassment is one case too many.”
The OOC paid out $359,450 since fiscal 2013 to address six claims made against House-member led offices, $84,000 of which was for a sexual harassment claim against Rep. Blake Farenthold’s office.
In the Senate, the OOC rebuffed lawmakers in their efforts to procure and make public similar data trickling out of the House side.
The OOC cannot release information on the number of sexual harassment claims — and the amount of taxpayer money spent to settle such claims — against senators or their staff, it said in a Monday letter to Sen. Tim Kaine.
The OOC’s explanation outlined the litany of apparent deficiencies in the reporting and documentation processes employees undertake when they want to file complaints.
Critics say those processes are designed to protect lawmakers, rather than taxpayers or employees, by closely guarding details of settlements and forcing victims to sign agreements that prohibit them from talking about their ordeal.
The OOC is constrained by a total lack of any investigatory authority into the specific allegations that led to settlements, Susan Tsui Grundmann, the office’s executive director, said in the letter.
After a roughly month-long counseling period, the complainant employees are not required to draft formal charges. That means the OOC often does not collect documents for specific allegations by employees who enter mediation discussions with their office after counseling.
These discussions often lead to settlements sealed by confidentiality agreements, which shield the office and victim from any search by the OOC.
For those reasons, “any information that the OOC provides or has provided may contain inaccuracies regarding the number of sexual harassment claims raised under the CAA or the reasons why cases resulted in settlement,” Grundmann said.
Kaine vowed Monday to keep pushing for the release of previous data and for reform within Congress to curtail sexual harassment on Capitol Hill.
“If Congress truly wants to fix a broken system, we need to understand the scope of the problem,” he said in a statement. “I’m disappointed the OOC didn’t release any information to help us do that. I’m going to keep pushing for public release of this data and working on reforms that help prevent harassment and assault.”